The History of Bongs & Hookahs

Bong is a water pipe filtration device used for smoking recreational drugs, herbs, and tobacco. Bongs are similar to hookahs. Bongs are manufactured out of a variety of materials that are air and water-tight. A good bong comprises a decent bowl, stem, and swag.

In most cases, a bong is made out of glass or acrylic. While the shape of the bong is universal, different companies and manufacturers get creative whiled designing their flagship. 

File:View of Constantinople by Jean Pascal Sébah (1905).png
Coffee shop in Istanbul, 1905.

The anatomy and working principle of the bong.

A bong contains a large open pipe leading to the chamber, with an inlet for the smoke. Users can pack medicinal cannabis or flavored tobacco into the pipe placed next to the base of the bong.

A bong may be constructed from any air- and water-tight vessel by adding a bowl and stem apparatus (or slide) which guides air downward to below water level whence it bubbles upward (“bubbler”) during use. 


Mushroom Percolator Beaker Bong Nail                          → Honeycomb Perc to Matrix Perc Water Pipe

To get fresh air into the bong and harvest the last remaining smoke, a hole known as the “carburetor,” “carb,” “choke,” “bink,” “rush,” “shotty,” “kick hole,” or simply “hole,” somewhere on the lower part of the bong above water level, is first kept covered during the smoking process, then opened to allow the smoke to be drawn into the respiratory system. 

On bongs without such a hole, the bowl and/or the stem are removed to allow air from the hole that holds the stem. 

Bong etymology

The word bong is an adaptation of the Thai word bong or baung, which refers to a cylindrical wooden tube, pipe, or container cut from bamboo, and which also refers to the bong used for smoking. 

The origin of Bong is a debatable topic.

According to Wikipedia, the earliest known bongs were found in Russia in 2013. Those rigs are believed to be over 2400 years old. 

Water pipe usage for cannabis, tobacco, and opium have been recorded in Persia, India, and China from around the early 1500s. 

While the inventor(s) are untraceable, we can assume that people have been using bongs or hookahs for well over two millennia.

Bongs in China (16th Century)

The use of a water pipe for smoking was introduced in China during the late Ming Dynasty, along with tobacco, through Persia and the Silk Road. By the Qing Dynasty, it became the most popular method to smoke tobacco but became less popular since the Republic era.

The water pipe employed since the Qing dynasty can be divided into two types: the homemade bamboo bong commonly made and used by country people, and a more elegant metal version employed by Chinese merchants, urbanites, and nobility. 

Metal utensils are typically made out of bronze or brass, the nobility version of silver, and decorated with jewels. 

Hookah etymology

In the Indian subcontinent, the Hindustani word huqqa is used and is the origin of the English word “hookah.”

The widespread use of the Indian word “hookah” in the English language is a result of the colonization in British India, when large numbers of expatriate Britons first sampled the water pipe.

The anatomy and working principle of Hookahs.

Just like the Bong, Hookah is a single- or multi-stemmed instrument for heating or vaporizing and then smoking either tobacco, flavored tobacco), or sometimes cannabis, and other products. The smoke is passed through a water basin—often glass-based—before inhalation.


22″ Single Hose D2 Shisha Hookah                            → 4 Leg Adjustable Spider Hookah

In modern days, Silicone rubber compounds are used for hookah hoses instead of leather and wire. New materials make modern hookahs more durable, eliminate odors while smoking and allow washing without risks of corrosion or bacterial decay. 

New technologies and modern design trends are changing the appearance of hookahs.

Hookahs in India (16th Century)

A bong has the bowl in the bottom on the side (and you inhale from the top) and is lit with a lighter. A hookah has the bowl on top and is kept lit with charcoal (and you inhale with a hose or [usually] hoses).

In the Indian city of Fatehpur Sikri, Roman Catholic missionaries of the Society of Jesus arriving from the southern part of the country introduced tobacco to the Mughal emperor Akbar the Great (1542–1605 AD). 

Louis Rousselet writes that the physician of Akbar, Hakim Aboul Futteh Ghilani, then invented the hookah in India.

However, a quatrain of Ahli Shirazi, a Persian poet, refers to the use of the Galyan, thus dating its use at least as early as the time of the Shah Ṭahmāsp I. 

It seems, therefore, that Abu’l-Fath Gilani should be credited with the introduction of the ḡalyān, already in use in Persia, into India.

There is, however, no evidence of the existence of the water pipe until the 1560s. Moreover, tobacco is believed to have arrived in India in the 17th century, until then cannabis was smoked in India, so that suggests another substance was probably smoked in Ahli Shirazi’s quatrain, perhaps through some other methods.

We hope you enjoyed reading the history of bongs and hookahs. Connect with us if you’ve got some cool tip or story we can add to this article.

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